David Wood is Executive Vice President of Research at mobile operating system developer Symbian and has been instrumental in building its relationships and position within the mobile eco-system.
Marek Pawlowski: How did you become involved in the mobile business and what’s your role at the moment?
David Wood: In 1988 I was looking for a job allowing me to use my nascent software engineering skills in the C programming language. I happened to reply to an advertisement in the Sunday Times for a job at Psion, known to me as the makers of the Psion Organiser II. They offered me a job and I took it, because firstly the people at Psion seemed bright and fired up, secondly it was the most interesting job offer I received at the time.
One thing led to another, and a large part of the Psion software team morphed by stages into Symbian, in part through my encouragement. Nowadays I’m the executive with responsibility for Research here. That means I have to anticipate and understand the ‘next big things’ and ensure Symbian is ready to respond in good time.
What does the term ‘mobile user experience’ mean to you?
Whether the user feels empowered and enchanted by the technology and services available on their mobile device.
How important do you think it is to have direct exposure to end customers when developing new mobile services? Is this something you do when you’re building your own products?
The way users respond to technology and services is nearly always different from what the designers expected, in at least one crucial way. So there’s no way to avoid having some direct exposure to end customers, if you want to create great mobile services.
You have to be ready to adjust your thinking, and then to adjust the product. Sometimes this is called ‘agile development’.
Symbian don’t create mobile services as such. We provide enablers for mobile services. Our customers are the companies who create the mobile services. Since our customers often respond to our service enablers in unexpected ways, we have to keep a very close relationship to them!
Who do you think has overall responsibility for user experience in the mobile telecoms industry – operators, handset manufacturers, application developers..?
We’re all in the same boat, which will sink if the user experience isn’t positive. To put the point less dramatically, if the user experience isn’t positive, there will be less revenues to share around the industry. Whatever our place in the value chain, we have to be sure that we are connected to others who are passionately and intelligently concerned about user experience.
What was your first mobile handset and what do you use these days?
The first mobile electronic handset I used was a Psion Organiser II and the first mobile telephone handset I used regularly was a Nokia 2110. This week I happen to be using a Sony Ericsson P990. I also still make hourly use of my Psion Series 5mx.
Which services do you use most often on your mobile?
Voice calls, voice mail, SMS, mobile email, contacts management, web browsing and travel planning. If you add in my Psion 5mx, then also note-taking, diary management, more contacts management, todo management, calculator and spreadsheet.
Do you think the industry should be moving towards a business model which enables each user to feel as if their handset has been designed for them as an individual?
Yes! And with the increasing options for personalisation and customisation, this should be possible.
What combination of handset design, mobile services and customer support would represent your ideal user experience?
Customer support should be something that I can easily discover for myself – a series of usage points that are easy to learn and remember. If there’s anything wrong with the product, ideally it should diagnose itself – or the provider of the service should be able to diagnose it and fix it over-the-air. But 100% reliability is the goal! Anything else is inevitably a disappointment. Mobile services without good design are almost always going to be a failure.
What’s the most bizarre use of a mobile device you’ve discovered recently?
I don’t know about ‘bizarre’, but here’s an interesting application I heard about recently: users of the Betfair online betting exchange service often wish they could continue to engage in monitoring and exchanging bets while away from their PCs. They sometimes ring up Betfair and ask if such a thing as a mobile betting terminal exists. In many cases, they would be willing to pay significant amounts of money for such a terminal.
But then they are delighted to find out that their existing mobile phone can be just such a terminal. They don’t need to buy a dedicated terminal. They can download a fully transactional mobile client for Betfair.
Another interesting example is the ‘3G Doctor‘ application. This allows users the opportunity to meet with qualified General Medical Council registered doctors by 3G Video Calling.